Asthma and Your Child: Becoming Aware of Common Triggers

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Annual Asthma Resource Fair

Eliezer Nussbaum, M.D., medical director, pediatric pulmonary center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine

Asthma is one of the most common chronic childhood disorders affecting an estimated 7.1 million children in the U.S. For parents, it is important to know what can trigger your child’s asthma and how to prevent asthma attacks.

Triggers are often harmless to most people, but certain substances, weather conditions or activities, can make life difficult for a child with asthma. Though they do not cause asthma, triggers can lead to symptoms and flare-ups.

Triggers and Asthma Management

Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be managed. The goal of asthma management is to reduce symptoms on a day-to-day basis and maintain normal activity levels, including exercise and participation in sports. One way to do this is to minimize exposure to triggers.

Common asthma triggers:

  • allergens
  • irritants and pollutants in the air
  • respiratory infections, like colds or influenza, rhinoviruses and
  • RSV (respiratory syncytial virus)
  • sudden weather changes
  • exercise

Preventative measures can be taken:

  • yearly flu shot
  • use of inhaler prior to strenuous physical activity
  • receive preventative therapies that reduce RSV hospitalizations for infants with chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease and premature infants

Allergens and Irritants

Allergens, one of the most common asthma triggers, include:

  • mold
  • dust mites
  • cockroaches
  • pollen
  • animal dander, saliva or urine
  • feathers

It isn’t possible to avoid all allergens, but you can help minimize them in your home. Focus on the rooms where your child sleeps and plays. Keeping these areas clean and dust free will reduce the risk of triggers affecting your child.

  • encase your child’s mattress and box spring in an airtight, hypoallergenic cover
  • encase your child’s pillow or wash it once a week, every week
  • remove carpets from the areas where your child spends most of their time
  • vacuum your child’s mattress twice a month to minimize the impact of dust mites

Irritants are different from allergens and can include anything from aerosol products to smoke from a wood fire. Do not smoke or let others smoke in your home or car. Children with asthma are even affected by smoke odor on clothes, hair, skin and furniture.

If you notice that certain items or household products trigger your child’s asthma, try to eliminate their use or switch to products that won’t affect your child’s asthma.

Weather and External Factors

Weather conditions also play a role. Windy conditions stir up pollens and molds. Rain can wash pollen from the air, decreasing the pollen count right after a rainfall. Yet lots of rain can stimulate large pollen production later in the season.

Extremes of cold or heat can trigger asthma symptoms. If you know that certain weather conditions aggravate your child’s asthma, watch the forecast and limit their time outdoors on problem days. If cold weather is the trigger, cover your child’s nose and mouth with a scarf. If hot, humid weather triggers symptoms, keep your child in an air-conditioned environment.

Remember that prevention is the best medicine. Taking these steps to be aware of triggers can help keep asthma episodes from starting.

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